People often ask me how long I have been doing photography. Most of them are surprised when I tell them I started two years ago. It seems like most photographers were born with a camera in their hands. Well, not me. The first time I ever touched a full frame camera was one year after moving to the US.
I already told you that I really struggled the first year I lived in the US. With a somewhat good education, almost fluent in English and no pressure, I thought it would be easy to get a job similar to the one I had at home. (Nope! Wrong!) It seemed without one of the standard American Degrees my applications were worthless. Either I got the typical “We are sorry…” , or didn’t even hear back from the companies AT ALL.
Also, to work as a property manager – what I did back home – I would have to go to school again to become licensed because my German degree wasn’t accepted here. Really? I just finished three years of real estate education and was definitely not interested in spending money and time for an American license! Also I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to work in my old job again.I can tell you that I got really frustrated after awhile and ended up applying at different staffing companies. I didn’t care anymore what job I got as long as I wasn’t stuck at home.
Finally, eight months later
I was hired by a shutter company as an administrative assistant. My first American Job!! How exciting. My tasks were answering the phone and creating visual plans for homeowners so they knew which shutter fits on which window. The problem was, I started right after Hurricane Matthew hit the east coast. Needless to say, countless people called to get their shutters fixed. I’m pretty fluent in English, at least that’s what I thought, but I quickly realized that I had trouble understanding the heavy southern accent most people have in Charleston. Especially when they are annoyed and the phone connection isn’t the greatest because they are in the car on the highway with background music turned up.
So whenever I politely asked to slowly repeat their names, most of the already annoyed customers got even more upset. And I get it. They probably thought, this stupid foreign girl has no idea what she is doing and my shutters will never be fixed. I sometimes (who doesn’t) feel the same way when I call customer service and the person on the other end doesn’t seem like a big help. You become frustrated and offended really easily. So, people started yelling at me and after a week I was horrified to answer the phone. I tried to avoid picking it up by hiding in the toilet 😀 (or by getting busy sorting files)
My enthusiasm at the beginning was gone in less than a week!
I remember one evening we went out for dinner with my husband’s boss. She asked me why I didn’t just start my own business? And to be honest, I had thought about how amazing it would be to be your own boss before – but there is a small problem. My own business selling what exactly?? Right, it might be easier to become self-employed in the US than in Germany but you still need a product to sell. And, hopefully, it is a good one as well…
Back to my office job.
I didn’t mention that it was just part time, so I had half the day off for my own pleasure. One afternoon I was sitting at a car repair shop (that’s not exactly what I mean with pleasure btw) and flipped through a real estate magazine. I love amazing architecture but working as a realtor didn’t work out for me. The cover photo on the magazine showed a beautiful twilight picture of a typical southern home. I wondered if I could ever capture images like that. All of a sudden, I had an idea. Why not become a photographer’s assistant? Something I could do in my spare time. Finally, something that’s more creative. And again, except for using my six-year old digicam, I had no experience in photography at all. Since the Lowcountry offers so much beauty, we wanted to buy a fancy camera anyways.
I found out that the cover photo was shot by a real estate photographer in town. Can you imagine how excited I got in that moment? And even better… On his website he was looking for an assistant! I applied the same evening… and didn’t hear from him, of course. Why in the world should I become his assistant? He probably gets requests every single day from way more experienced people than me.
So two weeks later, I gathered my courage and called him. And it was probably the best thing I could have done! Josh -that’s his name- thought my application was a scam and totally ignored it. Well, it turned out that he was really looking for someone to help him. He agreed to take me to his next photo shoot in downtown Charleston. We actually wanted to have coffee first, but when you know Josh you also know things can get chaotic sometimes.
I was so nervous!
It was a beautifully renovated little apartment in the middle of the city and Josh was already unpacking his gear when I arrived. Since his car was in a no parking zone, he just said “Hi, I’m Josh, nice to meet you! Would you mind parking my car at another spot?” And handed me his keys. Now remember, he had never met me before, didn’t know about my driving skills and had an awful lot of expensive gear in his trunk. Knowing him for awhile now, I found out he has a special relationship to his gear! 😉 None at all…
During the shoot he explained a lot about light, tilt shift lenses, vertical lines and how his camera is connected to his phone so he can fire up the flash from the other side of the room. I had no idea what he was talking about. But I was fascinated and acted like I understood.
And now we come to the point I still can’t believe sometimes.
After the session, Josh told me that he needed someone who could shoot like him that he could hire for his growing business and that he was willing to train me so I could quit my job and work for him. Wait what?? What kind of dream is that? I was in shock and had no idea what to say. My head was racing. Didn’t I tell him many times that I was a total amateur? All I wanted was to assist him, carrying his gear and spending a couple hours a day doing something interesting where I didn’t have to be afraid of get yelled at constantly.
I wasn’t used to this kind of approach to hiring employees. Let me quickly explain the German way of getting a job in a branch where you never worked before. You first need to go to school. If you are good enough (and lucky enough) you can do an internship and then you might get hired half a century later. No one ever would hire a layman (never heard this word but that’s what my translator suggested) and pay them money. Maybe that’s my personalized American dream.
Long story short,
two weeks later I quit my awful assistant job and started working for Josh and Ellis Creek Photography. And I will always be thankful for the opportunity he gave me. It was the start of a new path in my life. A whole new career. I finally found the job I would still do even with a bank account full of money. Don’t tell Josh but I would probably still work for free 😀
The reason why I appreciate it even more is I know for sure that I would never have started to get into photography back in Germany. It is really hard to start something new when you have your daily routine and expenses. As hard as it was in the first place living and searching for a job in the US, looking back I can say the US is definitely more employee friendly when you need a change in life.